|Obtaining conversions by whatever means may be necessary|
From The Grauniad
Going undercover, the evangelists taking Jesus to Tibet
by Jonathan Kaiman
"Chris and Sarah recently moved into a newly renovated two-bedroom apartment in Xining, a bustling Chinese city on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, where they manage a small business and spread the teachings of Jesus Christ. The couple, whose names have been changed to protect their identities, are enthusiastic and devout. They say that they could stay for decades.
"I really love being in a place where, it's like, if you're an artist, and an artist comes in and sees a blank canvas, they go heck yes – they love creating something new, and that's how I feel," said Sarah. "That's not to say that there aren't times when I cry my eyes out and get discouraged, but I know that this is where I'm supposed to be, so we're going to find joy in the midst of difficulty."
Tibet is the K2 of the evangelical Christian world – missionaries see it as a formidable yet crucial undertaking, a last spiritual frontier. Of the 400 foreigners living in Xining, most are missionaries, estimates Chris.
Proselytising has been illegal in China since 1949, when Mao Zedong declared western missionaries "spiritual aggressors" and deported them en masse, so today's evangelists work undercover as students, teachers, doctors, and business owners. Moreover, Tibetans are tough customers in the market for souls – Buddhism is central to their cultural identity, making them notoriously difficult to convert.
Despite all that, experts say that changing economic circumstances could make foreign Christians more influential in Tibetan society now than at any point in history.
Robbie Barnett, a leading Tibet expert at Columbia University, argues that the missionary phenomenon overturns the standard notion of western attitudes towards Tibet – that western society is intent on protecting Tibetan religion, while the Chinese government is more concerned with dismantling it. "If you look at foreigners there, there are people whose commitment is to the opposite – it's to replace Tibetan religion with their own religion."
More than 10 people interviewed for this article said that Chinese authorities in Tibetan areas were selectively tolerant of missionaries for reasons that range from pragmatic to borderline sinister. One is that they are a boon to local economies – they open lucrative businesses and teach at local schools for next to nothing, supplementing their meagre salaries with donations from home. Authorities may also consider missionaries politically trustworthy, reluctant to undermine their spiritual missions by openly criticising regional policies.
And lastly, the government may welcome them as a powerful counterforce to Tibetan Buddhism, with its electrifying political overtones.
"China isn't trying to destroy religion by any means, but they're trying to destroy certain parts of Tibetan religion," said Barnett. "They're not the same project by any means, but they certainly have some congruency."
'For Tibetans, everything is about religion'
Most missionaries in Tibet belong to nondenominational organisations which believe that Jesus Christ will return to the earth only when people from every social, cultural and linguistic group have been exposed to his teachings. These groups view mass conversion as a high form of ecclesiastical service, and as such, their tactics can be covert and transactional. Some lure young Tibetans with the promise of English lessons or professional training and coax them into conversion after making sure of their loyalty. Various Tibetans in Xining expressed disgust with this tactic. One likened it to bribery..."
TIP FOR CHRISTIANS - If some aspects of Buddhist beliefs seem unfamiliar, obscure, or confusing, then bear in mind that Buddhism is a process philosophy. Difficult aspects of Buddhism often become much clearer when viewed from a process perspective.
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